meet mike leibenluft,

actor, director, activist

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”927″ ]

hometown Chevy Chase, Md.

residential college Davenport

favorite dining-hall dish Tikka Masala

favorite character in a play I can’t answer this question

Q What do you love most about theater at Yale, and what do you hate most about it?

A I think the way Yale theater is set up allows students, and especially directors, a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility. We can usually find the resources to be able to work with incredibly intelligent and gifted actors to put up whatever type of performance piece we like. On the other hand, I sometimes feel like theater at Yale is unnecessarily fractured and competitive, and I worry that we try to pile on too much, and not always for the right reasons.

Q What is distinctive about your directing style?

A I’m not sure if I really have a “style” yet, but I am really into theater that has a little bit of everything: dance, multimedia, nudity. And I try to make the collaboration between myself, the ensemble of actors and the production team the heart of whatever project I’m working on.

Q What are your favorite plays and kinds of plays?

A I’m really into theatrical and daring new plays. I think dialogue with a living playwright is a particularly valuable part of the production process, and I try to include that whenever possible. I like plays that look at the way we live today and that question and challenge what theater can do.

Q What is the most nerve-wracking part of a production?

A Casting. And putting together a production team. Once you have people at your side, the rest is all groovy.

Q Can you tell us a little about your experience with theater for social change?

A I took a class at Yale last spring on theater for social change and then traveled this summer to China and Taiwan. I helped out with participatory theater workshops with migrant children and orphans in Beijing, teachers and students in Sichuan disaster areas, and visually and mentally impaired children in Taipei.

Q Why does theater matter?

A I’ve learned so much from theater, and I think it is also a great way for me to engage with the world. Sometimes I think of theater as a form of dialogue or a language. It can take you anywhere and express anything, and in the process it will hopefully bring us closer together. When we’re connecting the dots and exploring and seeing eye to eye — that’s where I want to head.

Q What is your favorite non-conventional theater space?

A Thain Cafe. Overpriced and sooo chatty.

Q And what’s up next at Yale?

A I’m involved in directing the second Dramat Ex which will go up in the Yale Rep on Oct. 10. It’s a “radio play in the flesh” about a teenage-girl inventor who creates a sound machine that hears sounds that can’t be heard (accompanied by a live Foley Artist). I’m also directing for the Opera Theater of Yale College production of scenes in October, and I’ll be putting up a small, new comedy about a scandal in Oregon called Speech & Debate in December.

Q After college … Broadway? Revolutionary theater?

A This may be harder than the previous question. I want to travel the world. I want to study the Grotowski method in Poland, learn about theater for social change in the Philippines, check out the scene in Berlin, learn the Suzuki method in Tokyo. And then come home. And start to tackle America.